Category Archives: Freemasonry

Nicholas Hawksmoor

1661-1736

Hawksmoor was an architect who began to work for Christopher Wren at 1680. He helped Wren with several City churches including St Paul’s cathedral.

In 1711 he was commissioned to help build around 50 churches in Greater London. Within the City his only church was St Mary Woolnoth which was completed in 1724 . Other churches included St. George-in-the-East, Wapping (1729), Christ Church, Spitalfields (1729) and St. Anne in Limehouse (1730) where you may find a Pyramid in the churchyard.

Freemasonry

…has suffered three centuries of fake news so please set aside your preconceptions.

There are about six million Freemasons worldwide with around 200,000 in the UK.

Freemasonry’s origins are unclear but they seem to have been modelled on – or at least inspired by – the Guilds and Livery companies.

They meet in groups called lodges. The first City lodges were formed in the early 1700s and met in pubs along Fleet Street and at the Goose and Gridiron which was just north of St Paul’s cathedral.

Meetings are presided over by an officer called the Master. The title is used in both male and female lodges. It is not gender specific but denotes somebody who has mastered their trade.

The Master is supported by two Wardens – the same as in the City livery companies.

The ritual and mysticism make reference to geometry, astronomy and, not surprisingly, architecture.

Were one to witness a ceremony then it might appear there is a Christian element as the officials include a Junior and Senior Deacon and there is mention of God.

This is actually what Freemasons call the “Great Architect Of the Universe”.

It is up to each individual mason to decide, privately and personally, how he or she interprets this.

Lodges have no class barriers – a labourer may sit down with a Lord. They are strictly non-political.

Ever since conception they have been places where people of any religion could meet – even in communities which were divided by different faiths.

To this day the discussion of politics and religion is forbidden on Masonic premises.

Members  follow several principles, these include:-

  • To be honest in business and personal dealings.
  • To support a fellow member or friend in time of need.
  • To obey the laws of the land – anybody who has committed a significant crime is not allowed to remain nor become a Mason.
  • To help the less fortunate members of society. As such Freemasons in the UK give around £135,000 each day to charity (£50 million per annum) and contribute over 18 million hours voluntary work each year.

Famous Freemasons include aviator Charles Lindberg, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, scientist Edward Jenner, jazz player Louis Armstrong, politician & author Winston Churchill and Joséphine de Beauharnais whom you will know better as Joséphine Bonaparte.

In the City: Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington; author Alexander Pope and architect Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Women’s Rights campaigners
Several prominent members of the Suffrage and similar movements were masons:-

Lady Agnes Grove (1863-1926). Outspoken suffrage supporter, using her skills as a writer and public speaker.
Annie Besant (1847-1933) . Women’s rights activist and Suffrage leader
Annie Cobden-Sanderson (1853-1926). Militant suffragette who was sent to prison; member of Women’s Freedom League.
Charlotte Despard (1844-1939). Anglo-Irish suffragist, socialist and pacifist, founder of the Women’s Freedom League, one of the main suffrage organisations.
Evelina Haverfield (1867-1920). Prominent suffragette, having taken part in demonstrations, been arrested and imprisoned
Muriel, Countess De La Warr (1872-1930). President of the Federated Council of Suffrage Societies, which tried to unify the many disparate suffrage groups and determine a united policy.

First female masons?

The first record of female masons is in 1740s France. In UK about 5,000 women are masons, most belong to around 300 lodges under the Order of Women Freemasons which was formed in 1908.

Was Christopher Wren a Mason?

This has been subject to debate for over 200 years. There is evidence to suggest that he had begun some connection with freemasonry in the 1690s but there is no firm proof that he was ever actually a mason.

Limehouse Pyramid

In the churchyard of St Anne’s Church in Limehouse, north-west of the church itself is a tall pyramid.

In the stories of Sax Rohmer this was the entrance to Dr Fu-Manchu’s opium den!

The pyramid was built by Nicholas Hawksmoor who was also the architect of the church itself.

Its purpose is unclear though Hawksmoor often incorporated pyramids in his designs and it might originally to have been intended to be part of the church roof or tower.

It does have an inscription “The Wisdom of Solomon”. This may be because Solomon’s temple features in the mysticism and ritual of Freemasonry and Hawksmoor was an early freemason.

The Pyramid features in my Docklands North Bank walk

Alexander Pope

1688-1744

Poet, translator and satirist of what is known as the English Augustan period.

Pope was physically handicapped. He had curvature of the spine believed to come from too much time studying. When young he is believed to have suffered from tuberculosis of the spine which hampered his growth and he stood only 4.6″ tall. He suffered a lot of pain but was pleased that he was still able to ride a horse.

He was a Catholic and lived his early years in London until anti-Catholic harassment forced his family to move to Berkshire.

Pope might well have gone to university but was constrained by the Test Acts of 1673 and 1678 which supported the Church of England and banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting or holding public office on penalty of imprisonment.

His works included Pastorals, Messiah (from the Book of Isaiah, later translated into Latin by Samuel Johnson), The Rape of the Lock (a satire on privileged society). He also translated Homer’s Illiad into English and compiled and edited a six-volume publication of William Shakespeare’s works.

He introduced the word Bathos to the language – meaning a sudden change from the solemn to the amusing or ridiculous.

Pope introduced several aphorisms to the language including “To Err is human; to forgive divine”, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, “Wit is the lowest form of humour” and “A little learning is a dangerous thing, [Drink deep or taste not the Perian Spring]” (the Perian Spring was a sacred spring near Mount Olympus).

He was a Freemason, something which may have caused a conflict in his later life when the pope, in 1738, forbade Catholics from being masons.

In terms of the City, Pope was born in Plough Court off Lombard Street.

He was reputed to have lost money in the so called South Sea Bubble. Did he? This will be discussed in a future article.